Sunday, January 31, 2016

McMurry Student Panel at the Parliament

I've decided to start blogging again. Here is a brief look at the Parliament of the World's Religions through the eyes of some of my students at McMurry University.

I am proud of the student panel from McMurry that presented at the Parliament. They were in my Sociology of Religion class during the Fall 2015 semester. Here is a link to an article I wrote about them for The Interfaith Observer.

"Shedding Religious Exclusivism in the College Classroom"

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Biblical Abuse

This is one of my more recent poems. It probably is not great poetry, simply a poetic attempt to express something inside of me. My intent is not to offend, but to protest the sloppy and condescending use of the word biblical. This powerful adjective is frequently used to modify a perspective in a way that says, "My view is 'biblical' and, therefore, represents God's side over against any other perspective." The problem is that EVERY interpretation of the Bible is just that, an INTERPRETATION. There is no such thing as THE biblical view of anything (my view included). Everything is interpreted.


I’m beginning to hate the word biblical
When it is used as an adjective
To justify shallow dogma.
biblical lifestyle
biblical counseling
biblical marriage
biblical dating
biblical weight loss
biblical womanhood
biblical manhood
biblical illusions, all.

I hate the word biblical.
It isn’t the Bible that I hate.
I love her stories, myths, parables, and legends
That disclose the messiness of human life
And seek to understand
God’s involvement in the mess.

But I hate the word biblical
Presumptuously describing
What “should” be
When we all know that the “should”
Is falsely absolutized
Constructed of
Self-righteous illusion

Friday, October 26, 2012

A Dignity Observed by Mark Waters

She stands with statuesque dignity
On a tired, tired day,
A day preceded by too many days of back bus
A day exhausted by countless days of weary

Finger prints try to steal her
Prints inked-black on paper cards.
Her identity will not be flattened
            Into parchment solitude.

Her solitude is not isolated,
            But in solidarity
With all who have been pushed
To the back of the bus or to a shame-filled
In the shadows of the Heart.

Keep your seat,
            Let the Heart-shadows be drenched in
Keep your seat, centered in the dignity of your own beautiful
That light-filled place that is

Then stand!
Stand with statuesque
In the Identity that cannot be inked-black on paper cards.                        
Stand with dignity
In the light-filled center of your own
            True Heart! 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Blessed By Diversity in India

Will we be remembered for what we create or for what we destroy? McMurry Assistant Chaplain Tim Palmer captured my imagination with this question during a McMurry University mission trip to India. At the time he raised the question, we were touring the Ellora Caves near Aurangabad, in the state of Maharashtra, India. These are not naturally occurring caves. Over a period of centuries, Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist artisans painstakingly carved full size temples into the side of a mountain. Later, many of the statues in the caves were defaced by Mogul warriors who feared idolatry.

Religion at its worst identifies itself through an enemy, through what it hates or destroys. I’m not singling out a particular religion. Few major religions can claim innocence. There are groups of people in virtually every religion that find their identity in opposing others, sometimes violently, sometimes simply with a holier-than-thou silence. I realize as I write this article—or as you read it—that if we are primarily thinking of those “other” religions that define themselves through opposition to an enemy, then we’ve missed the point. We have to look at ourselves first.

A major dimension of human development, of course, is self-definition through opposition, thus the “terrible twos” and adolescence. Destructive problems arise, however, when biological adults continue to define their religious identity at a “terrible two” or adolescent level. I’m not ignoring the fact that there are major problems in the world that we must resist. There is much in the world that is hurtful, violent, and destructive that we need to resist, nonviolently. But there is a huge difference between resisting that which is destructive, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, constructing our religious identity through what we oppose or hate. Mission trips and study abroad opportunities can teach us to identify ourselves through what we love rather than through what we oppose or hate.

In his newest book, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World, Brian McLaren invites us to a creative rather than a destructive way of dealing with religious difference. He answers the question posed in the title this way: to get to the “other.”  They crossed the road to get to the “other.” He asserts, I think accurately, that if Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed met on the road, they would learn to get along with each other much better than many of their followers have. And they would lead us to encounters where we would discover each other as God’s children rather than as enemies.

McMurry in Motion initiatives to India and elsewhere help us to experience the reality that all God’s children are just that, God’s children. All are sisters and brothers. While in India, we discovered sisters and brothers of diverse faith backgrounds at St. John English School, at New Beginnings Children's Home, among a group of people with leprosy, and in the diversity of Indian culture. The Rev. John Dongerdive, and all the leaders of Life Light Ministries (the umbrella ministry for St. John and New Beginnings), exhibit genuine faith while, simultaneously, working in loving relationship with people of other faiths. 

Students, and all of us who participate in McMurry study abroad and mission initiatives, have the golden opportunity to learn to work together with the religious and cultural “other” to create a better world. If “mission” is essentially about sharing God’s love, then surely loving and finding community with the religious “other” is central to our mission. More, it is a means of taking responsibility for creating peace in the world. Will we be remembered for what we create or for what we destroy?

Thursday, August 23, 2012


The following poem, Finding Rumi’s Field, alludes to this poem by Rumi:

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I'll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase "each other" doesn't make any sense.
~Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi - 13th century

Finding Rumi’s Field

Tell me O Wise One,
Who dwells in the watery depths
Of inky-blue fog,
Where is now?
When is here?

Take my hand,
Lead me there,
That I may dwell in the
Wisdom of eternity.

I have strayed into the future,
I have collapsed into the past,
I have lived in the land of nowhere,
Show me the way home.

O Wise One,
Who is always now,
Who is always here,
I created a future where you were not.
I wandered into a past without Wisdom.

Rumi told me of Your dwelling place
In the imagination of my dreams,
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
Take my hand,
Lead me home.

Then the Wise One
Took my hand.
The clasp of the hand
Itself is home,
Is here
Is now.

For in the clasp of the hand
We met in Rumi’s field.
We entered a space that, indeed, we never left
Except in the straying search of future and past.
We entered that space once lost in the watery depths
Of inky-blue fog.
And there,
Is a green pasture flooded with Light.
A pasture, a field, from which I strayed,
And the fog was no more.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

New Poems: "Piety's Curse Dissolved" and "Words, Words, Words"

I hope to post soon about a recent trip to India. In the meantime, I'm simply posting two poems that I composed yesterday. I'm tempted to write brief explanations of each poem, but that would defeat the purpose of poetry. The poems need to speak for themselves.

Piety’s Curse Dissolved

The moon lit the sky
With a mysterious hue
As I walked among the
Dreams of my life.

The hue brought mystic clarity,
Allowing me to see
Beyond the heart clinching night
Of piety’s curse.

Piety’s curse,
Heavy dogma,
The millstone noose
Around the neck of the soul.

They claim to know God’s “word,”
yet “abomination”
Oozes from their pious attitude
Cloaked in syrup-feigning-love.

Oozing syrup,

I wanted to die with Christ and live,
But his pious followers murdered me
Before the denouement
of sacrificial love.

Now, this night, the moon’s hue
On an otherwise dark evening
Reminds me that love can
Live and sacrifice still, free of piety.

Wordless books on
Heartless shelves,
The bible-dogma of ancient days,
Dissolved in the moon’s light. Freedom.

Words, Words, Words

Too many words,
Public prayers
Overwhelm me with flighty activity
That bypass, ignore, the still small Voice.

The first mark of genuine prayer
Is Silence
Before Mystery.
But words get in the way.

Too many words,
God, word word word, God // God, word word word, God // God, word word word, God.
Father-God… // Father-God… // Father-God.
Uhm we just…Father-God…// Uhm we just… Father-God… //Uhm we just… Father-God.
Shut up! God doesn’t have to keep hearing Her name!

Shut up, Shut up, Shut up!!!
Too many words.
Shut up!
And leave room for God.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Tell Me Your Story: Narrative Ethics and Peacemaking

Tell me your story. Stories carry within them the shape of life, the landscape of living. I can disagree with your logic, your theology, your political views, or any number of your opinions, but I cannot disagree with your story. It is, after all, your story. Stories are bridges of human understanding.

The use of story as a bridge for human understanding is the essence of the relatively new field of narrative ethics. Examples include interreligious relationships (Laurie L. Patton), biomedical ethics (Howard Brody, et. al.), LGBT advocacy (e.g. Reconciling Ministries in the United Methodist Church), Liberation Theology and civil rights (biblical stories of liberation, especially the Exodus), certain aspects of feminist ethics of care (Carol Gilligan, et. al.) and literature as a source of moral direction (Martha Nussbaum).

Unfortunately, I recall too many times in my life that I’ve argued theology or politics when the values of reconciliation would have been better served if I had simply said, “Tell me your story.” I’ve responded to questions about my theological perspective with didactic content and logic, leading to argument, when I could have deepened relationship by simply responding with, “Let me tell you my story….”

Stories invite us into a narrative journey with another person rather than confronting us with a combative argument that calls for a staunch “yes or no … I’m with you or against you.” Biomedical ethicist Howard Brody describes the magnetic attraction of story with the beautiful term co-human presence. Co-human presence doesn’t mean that we experience exactly how another person feels; it means that we enter a narrative field with the “other” and are thereby joined in a common journey. Stories, indeed, are bridges of human understanding.

I concluded a recent poem (see the 5/27/12 post of this blog) with the following words:

Tell me your story, I said,
In the innocence of
A child at bedtime.
And the tale that
Emerged on the lips
Of the suffering
Told the story
That created the world

Stories, as Hans-Georg Gadamer reminded us, create worlds. They also help to create peace among people of different worlds. The next time I’m tempted to argue, I think I will respond with a genuine, “Tell me your story.”

Grace, peace, and love,